Sturgeons threatened by illegal fishing and caviar trade

A new report has found ongoing illegal fishing and trade in caviar. Credit: Bill Reese, Caviar Emptor, SeaWeb A new report has found ongoing illegal fishing and trade in caviar. Credit: Bill Reese, Caviar Emptor, SeaWeb

A new report by WWF and TRAFFIC has found that ongoing illegal fishing and trade in caviar in Romania and Bulgaria is threatening the survival of sturgeons in the Danube river basin.

In both countries, a current fishing ban is in place until 2015. However, Bulgarian fishermen told researchers they used modern equipment such as sonar and GPS as well as the forbidden traditional hook lines - ‘carmaci’ - to catch wild sturgeons.

“Romania and Bulgaria are home to the only viable wild sturgeon populations left in the European Union, but unless this sophisticated illegal fishing is stopped, these fish are doomed,” said WWF’s Jutta Jahrl, author of the new report.

For the report 30 caviar samples were obtained and analysed to determine the species of origin (14 in Romania, 14 in Bulgaria and two of Bulgarian farmed caviar in Austria).

Of five samples said by vendors to be from wild-caught sturgeons, four were shown to be from the highly sought-after Beluga Sturgeon Huso huso. Five of the six sturgeon species native to the Danube River basin, including the Beluga, are Critically Endangered.

“The survey demonstrates that caviar allegedly from wild sturgeons is still being offered for sale in Bulgaria and Romania despite the current ban,” said Jutta Jahrl.

Although trade in farmed caviar is permitted if containers are specially labeled, eight of the caviar samples bought in fish shops or from street vendors did not have the mandatory labels and codes.

Of three samples that did have the correct labels, they were found to be from species or hybrids other than those declared. Furthermore, five samples were mixtures containing more than one species of sturgeon, which is not permitted, while a further six samples were shown not to be sturgeon caviar, despite being explicitly sold as such.

The report, Illegal caviar trade in Bulgaria and Romania can be found here.

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